Livingston council approves urgent contract for water well repairs

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 19, 2014 

— The City Council on Tuesday approved an emergency contract for repairs to one of the city’s largest water wells – a move city leaders say is urgent because of the drought and upcoming summer months.

Well No. 16, on Olive Avenue, has been offline for about six to eight months, according to Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra. The well was taken offline to replace its filter, which Samra said contained old technology, expensive parts and had a life expectancy of one year.

However, the city found itself in a conundrum when officials realized another water well would soon go offline for installation of a filter for the toxic chemical TCP – possibly leaving residents and businesses with a water shortage during a drought year and with summer around the corner.

“Right now, we can meet our demands with one well down,” Samra said, “But if we were to lose another well, it would be very difficult to meet demand in summertime.”

Well No. 8 will soon go offline to install a filtration system for TCP, Samra said.

On top of that, another well was recently taken offline because of an intrusion of sand, though officials said it should be operational by the end of the week.

Stressing the importance of the issue, the council voted unanimously to award a $50,000 contract for repairs to Well No. 16 to Merced-based Shannon Pump. Councilman Arturo Sicairos was absent Tuesday night.

City officials bypassed the usual competitive bidding process used to select a company because of the short timeline, Samra said. “The law states that we can do that in urgent situations,” he said, adding that Shannon Pump was selected because it’s a local company that has done work for Livingston before.

The contract with Shannon Pump will include sampling, trimming impellers and reinstalling a pump or motor, according to city documents. The water sampling is to identify where the highest levels of arsenic concentrations are located.

The well, which contains the highest level of arsenic in the city, is also the deepest, reaching about 450 feet. Officials believe the most arsenic is found below the “clay” layer of the well, and hope to reduce the amount of arsenic by blocking off that area.

“We believe that we can eliminate half the arsenic level by isolating that strata,” City Manager Jose Ramirez said during the meeting.

Livingston resident Katherine Schell-Rodriguez criticized the council Tuesday night, saying council members were aware of potential issues with the city’s water wells since 2007 and waited to act.

“We’re suddenly in an ‘Oh crap, we need to get this done now’ mode,” she said. “How many more of these sudden emergencies are we going to have?”

City officials responded by saying the city has taken a “comprehensive approach” to resolving its ongoing water problems.

“Every city has problems with wells, some worse than us,” Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza said. “I know Livingston gets a bad rap. Arsenic is part of water and we’re trying to address the issues.”

Officials said the issue was also discussed at the last Utility Rates Stakeholders Committee meeting, which brings together business leaders and residents to address water issues. The next stakeholder meeting will be held 5:30 p.m. Monday at the City Hall conference room, 1416 C St.

Samra said the meeting will be open to the public and could include discussions about a proposed increase to water rates.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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